Thursday, September 13, 2007

"You'll be in tomorrow"

They did return the next day but by then, the world renowned 31 year-old had passed away. No one had expected Alex to pass away on September 6 2007, he had just gotten his annual physical two weeks before and had been found in good health.

Dr Irene Pepperberg had purchased Alex in 1973 at random from a local petshop after she chose to leave the field of chemistry and pursue the study of the avian brain. His name was an acronym for the research project project, Avian Learning EXperiment and the one year-old african grey parrot began his journey that would eventually shatter the myths of parrot speech.

Alex went on to learn enough English to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes and quantities from 0 to 6. He also used phrases such as "I want" and aquired the concepts of categories such as: bigger-smaller, same-different and absence. Alex could combine his labels to identify, refuse and categorize more than 100 different items. He could also use his language skills to express desires, as well as his frustration with repetitive research.

Alex and Dr Pepperberg radically changed the generally accepted beliefs of how birds think and communicate. His learning is based on a rival-model technique where two humans demonstrate to the bird what is to be learned. What Alex taught Dr Pepperberg in his learning has been applied to helping children with learning disabilities. Dr Pepperberg had stated that Alex had the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old and the intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old child.

Alex and Dr Pepperberg have been featured world-wide in numerous publications and programs. They also have been affiliated with several colleges and universities. Alex has proven that bird do not just mindlessly mimic human language and what has been pioneered with him, will continue with the two other birds included in the research.....Griffen and Arthur.

The research that Dr Pepperberg began in the early seventies was similar to the answers being sought about the intelligence of gorillas. Koko and Michael, who passed away in 2000, were taught sign language in the Gorilla Language Project in an effort to study the intelligence of gorillas. Koko began when she was a year old and Michael when he was three and between them, they advanced further than any non human has in speech. Michael knew over 600 signs and Koko knows approximately 1,000 and understand over 2,000 words of spoken English.

Both of these projects have shown that lauguage is not unique to humans and they continue to discover new horizons in both avain and gorilla intelligence and lauguage abilities.

"You be good, I love you. I'll see you tomorrow," stated Dr Pepperberg Thursday evening, her usual good night routine with Alex at Brandeis University, Waltham MA.

"You'll be in tomorrow," answered Alex that last time, as he had always done each night.

Donation's in Alex's memory can be made to The Alex Foundation, a not-for-profit c/o Dr Pepperberg Department of Psychology/MS-062, 415 South St, Brandeis University, Waltham MA 02454

The not-for-profit Koko Foundation can be found by going here.

No comments: